The Empire Returns by Dr Mohd. Manzoor Alam (OCTOBER 25, 2011)

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam’s take on the historic developments in Libya and North Africa.

Are the French returning to stake their claim to their former North African Empire? And, are the wily British at their old game once again? The way they have behaved in Libya is a grim reminder of their visciousness and their propensity to violate others’ sovereignty.

There are too many reasons for the ouster of Zine-el-Abideen ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. These were some of the worst tyrants sitting over the chests of their hapless people for decades on end, even though they were not kings.

They never bothered for a second to consider what their people wanted. They would use violent repression at the first sight of dissent, although they considered themselves to be some sort of democrats. That might sound like a joke, but they did seriously think that what they were running was their own version of democracy. They did not know that tolerance of dissent was a major marker of democracy. Gaddafi called Libya a jamhiriya (democratic republic). It was a jamhiriya that was a despotic tyranny, where the dictator’s sons were in line for succession like a monarchy.

But does all this call for a NATO invasion and an attempt by former European colonisers to recolonise Libya decades after decolonisation of North Africa? The NATO intervention looks almost like the return of the colonial powers intent on recolonising the land and its mineral wealth through local proxies.

That the rebels had the backing of a venerable aalim like Yusuf al Qardawi and an intellectual like Rashid at Gannoushi does not make this NATO invasion or the backstage manipulation by European and American governments less of a crime under international law.

Ironically, the Western manipulation of hostile tribes, the patronage to dissatisfied political leaders and Western armed intervention came at a time when Gaddafi had reconciled (according to his own judgment) with the United States and was enjoying the “friendship” of Italy’s Burlusconi and Britain’s Blair. He had no particular reason to see France’s Sarkozy as an enemy either. Additionally, he used to see Obama as a son, because he happened to be the son of a fellow African. That, from a dying Gaddafi’s perspective, must have looked like a stab in the back by “friends.”

Now that the Arab Spring is already moving towards an uncertain winter, we have reasons to get worried for the entire region. So much blood has been shed from Iraq to Libya, and very little consolidation of a stable, democratic polity taking hold is visible, uncertainty looms large on the horizon across the Middle East and Africa.

The time to rejoice over the overthrow of the dictator (with direct intervention of NATO, alas!) has not come. The rejoicing is premature. Libyans must remember that their country is merely a spot on the neo-imperial chessboard, its oil and natural wealth always a target for looting, and its people merely unwanted baggage on an aircraft.

We are passing through times fraught with danger for the future of Arab countries. One false step and the game will be lost. They must play it with the greatest care and caution.


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